Grading Policy

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The Sunnyside Unified School District is committed to the principles of accuracy and equity when it comes to supporting the needs of students and parents. By eliminating the zero grade and extra credit during the 2021-22 school year, our teachers, administrators, and community members made a dramatic leap forward not only in the accuracy of graded feedback but also took the first important steps in addressing potential bias and improving student academic motivation.

It is in the interest of continuing to advance this important work that, following the directive of the Sunnyside Unified School District grading advisory committee, all teachers in grades 6-12 will be adopting the following practices for the 2022-23.

Rubric Based Grading

Although the traditional A-F and 100 point grading scale is something that many of us grew up with, a tremendous body of research over the past three decades has established many problems with regards to both its fairness and accuracy. This makes sense when you think about it. While a “C” grade (for example) can tell a student how they performed, this grade does little to communicate what the student might have accomplished within the assignment or what they can do to improve moving forward.

For this reason all assignments and course grades for the 2022-23 academic year will be evaluated according to the following levels of student learning.

These grading scales are rubric-based with each number representing a different degree of understanding or mastery. A 4 – 0 Scale does NOT equate to A – F, but rather indicates the level of learning or proficiency. Scores of 2 – 4 are considered passing; a score of 1.5 is considered credit attainment, but indicates that significant deficiencies in standards proficiency exist in the grading period. For students in grades 9-12, when final grades are stored at the end of each term, GPA points will be applied and posted within the student graduation transcript.

Personal Responsibility Measures

One of the key principles of equitable grading is that student grades should be authentic, meaning that they are based solely on what he or she knows as opposed to how the student behaves in class. Extensive research into student grading consistently shows that penalizing grades does not improve student behavior. More importantly, grades influenced by behavior often make it more difficult for teachers to make instructional decisions as the grade no longer represents what the student actually knows as it relates to learning in the class.

As a result, during the 2022-23 academic year, student behaviors will be reported in the gradebook using the following personal responsibility measures.

Each of the previous measures will be reported at the end of each school term according to the following; E= Exceeds Expectations, S= Satisfactory, N= Needs Improvement, U= Unacceptable.

It is important for students and parents to remember that while Personal Responsibility measures do not contribute to either student grades or GPA, these scores CAN be utilized to help to re-establish eligibility for things like sports and other types of extracurricular activities.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Why do we need to reconsider the way we grade?
Although we all grew up in a school system that utilized “traditional” approaches to grading, research consistently demonstrates that these systems are often inaccurate, prone to teacher bias, and undermine student motivation towards the learning.
Where did traditional (A-F) grading systems come from?
The dramatic need to assimilate large numbers of new immigrants in the early 20th century and make them ready for the workforce lead schools to focus on efficiency and productivity. Letter grades and “curves” were designed as a way to sort students easily. This practice is not only inequitable but it no longer accurately reflects the needs of college and employers in a modern, information economy.
Why wouldn’t we want to lower a student grade based on mistakes in their work?
Mistakes are a necessary part of any learning process and yet traditional grading treats mistakes as unwanted, unhelpful and deserving of penalty.
Why is applying grade points to all phases of the learning a bad thing?
In traditional grading, teachers judge nearly every action of a student through-out the learning process, weakening trust in the student-teacher relationship and inhibiting students from disclosing weaknesses or incentivizing dishonest means to conceal weaknesses.
Isn’t the fear of failing a class a strong motivator for students to work harder?
Although the traditional belief is that points motivate students to learn, one of the sturdiest findings in social science is that extrinsic motivation for learning is ineffective and even harmful to students’ long-term success. Too many students have received years of low and failing grades which, for them, provide little motivation. In contrast, equitable grading practices allow for and even encourage mistake making as a means of learning.
Doesn’t feedback on learning activities push growth toward learning goals?
Traditional grading practices frame grades as “performance goals” which often result in students motivated to be successful only when the task is easy, and to be motivated to avoid failure- more psychologically uncertain and stressful- when the task is challenging.
“Why is giving a student who doesn’t turn in work a ZERO not an accurate representation of their learning?
It is the extremely rare student who knows absolutely nothing about a concept that was taught, so assigning a zero almost never accurately represents a student’s achievement. The zero also disproportionately punishes students when used within a 0-100 point scale.
Why wouldn’t teachers want to give the same point values for all tasks within a class?
Averaging a student’s performance this way results in inaccurate descriptions of what a student ultimately learned and inequitably lowers grades for students who took a longer time to learn and demonstrate proficiency. Instead, a student’s most recent performance can more accurately and equitably describe their progress.
How does providing extra-credit opportunities undermine the accuracy of the grade?
Eliminating extra credit helps us to immunize our grades from inequities, no longer rewarding or penalizing students based on their environment or resources, and adding credibility and value to the required curriculum and assignments. If the work is important, it should be required.
How does giving a student a ZERO for cheating undermine the accuracy of the grade?
When we incorporate behavioral problems into a grade, we warp the accuracy of the grade to describe student academic performance. We also miss the underlying causes of the behavior- such as inadequate preparation and insufficient supports. Instead of entering a ZERO grade that effectively ends the learning, we should allow revisions and late work to be submitted when it is done and punish cheating by requiring the student to complete the assignment or assessment, perhaps with non-grade consequences.
Why shouldn’t student personal responsibility measures or work habits factor into their classroom grade?
A student’s grade should reflect their level of mastery in a subject and not their personal behavior (eg. punctuality, participation, effort…etc.) within a class. By separating student behavior from academic performance, teachers can more effectively focus on the evidence students are providing to demonstrate progress toward the mastery of the standards within that class.
How does this new grading system impact student GPA?
While rubric scoring is designed to provide students with more accurate feedback on assignment and course performance, students will also be provided with a letter grade (A-F) for the course (based on rubric score performance) at the end of the term. Just as with the current grading system, it is the letter grade that determines the GPA. Weighted classes will also remain the same meaning if a student earns a 5 in an AP course, that 5 will be calculated into the GPA just like it has been.

Conversion from Learning Level (Teacher assessed) to GPA Weight/Calculation (Transcript)

Learning Level Score Letter Grade Standard Weight Honors Weight AP/Dual Enrollment Weight
3.1 - 4.0 A 4.0 4.5 5.0
2.5 - 3.0 B 3.0 3.5 4.0
2.0 - 2.4 C 2.0 2.5 3.0
1.5 - 1.9 D 1.0 1.5 2.0
0.0 - 1.4 F 0 0 0
Is the 4-0 rubric scale the same as the GPA grading scale?
The 4-0 rubric scale does NOT equate directly to the A-F GPA scale. The “levels of learning” scales are rubric-informed with each number representing a different degree of mastery a student has towards the standard being assessed. Each number is designed to represent a different degree of understanding. While only scores of 2-4 will be considered “passing” on assignments and courses, a grade of 1.5 or higher will be counted for “credit attainment”.
How will this grade change affect college applications and scholarship opportunities?
School districts across the country who have initiated a transition to more equitable grading systems have had countless conversations with college administrators to ensure that these changes don’t negatively impact students. Schools all over the country work on different types of grading scales so universities and colleges are used to interpreting different types of transcripts. The equitable grading system which SUSD is currently implementing is very similar to changes made by other Arizona high schools who have some of the highest rates of scholarship and college acceptance in the nation.
Who came up with these new grading policies and grading scales?
In January 2020 the district created its first equitable grading committee, extending participation to all district teachers, administrators and staff. This committee, which would continue to meet throughout the 2020-21 school year consisted of more than 80 members, representing all grade levels, schools, and content areas. After engaging in research, discussions, and collaborative conversations, this group came to a consensus that the current grading system would need to change in order to make it more equitable. As a result, Phase I changes (eliminating the zero and extra-credit) were implemented during the 2021-22 school year and phase II changes (rubric scoring and personal responsibility measures) will be implemented during the 2022-23 school year.